Screen time may be the preferred source of entertainment for most kids (and adults — let’s be real!), but researchers are hoping that parents still encourage their kids to find the magic in reading especially due to the potential benefits.
A new study suggests that reading for pleasure may help young children grow into better adjusted tweens and teens.
The data, which studied 10,000 U.S. "tweens," found that those who'd begun reading for fun early in childhood tended to be faring better in several facets of life.
They scored higher on tests of skills like memory and speech development; had fewer behavioral problems and depression symptoms; and showed better results in certain measures of brain structure.
Brain scans found that children who started to read for pleasure by the age of nine had slightly larger total brain areas and volumes, particularly those regions of the brain that play a key role in cognitive functions.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that reading for 12 hours a week (so almost two hours a day) is optimal for kids to foster bigger and healthier brains.
Researchers did note that kids who constantly have their nose stuck in a book do run the potential risk of cognitive decline due to neglecting other mentally enriching activities, such as sports and social interactions. There was no greater gains past 12 hours a week of reading for fun.
The team also found strong links between recreational reading between the ages of two and nine and performance in memory, speech, verbal learning, and general academic tests.
Another huge win for reading: the children studied slept longer and spent less time looking at screens.
Almost half of the 10,000 teenagers studied had minimal exposure to reading for pleasure or did not start reading for fun until later in their childhood.
The remaining 52% — according to the research conducted by the University of Warwick, Fudan University in China, and the University of Cambridge — spent between three and 10 years reading for enjoyment.
One interesting aspect to note about the study is that children from relatively affluent homes, who generally perform better on tests than their less affluent classmates, may be more likely to read for pleasure anyway, and that the link between reading and test scores is a result of socio-economic background.
Children from more affluent families may also be less exposed to some of the factors that can cause stress and depression, such as food and housing insecurity, and may also be more likely to have parents monitoring screen use and bedtimes.
“Reading isn’t just a pleasurable experience — it’s widely accepted that it inspires thinking and creativity, increases empathy and reduces stress. But on top of this, we found significant evidence that it’s linked to important developmental factors in children, improving their cognition, mental health, and brain structure, which are cornerstones for future learning and well-being,” says Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry in a media release.
“We encourage parents to do their best to awaken the joy of reading in their children at an early age. Done right, this will not only give them pleasure and enjoyment, but will also help their development and encourage long-term reading habits, which may also prove beneficial into adult life,” concludes Professor Jianfeng Feng from Fudan University in China and the University of Warwick.
In other words, read with your children. Head to the library and pick out books together. Make reading an enjoyable experience and not a chore. Instead of endless scrolling TikTok while your kid plays independently, pick up a book and lead by example.
The world of books and storytelling is a magical one, and clearly there’s some science to back this up.